Portland Mayor Charlie Hales explains why climate action is about both planet and people

Pope Francis, speaking in an incredible 500-year-old building at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City this summer, told me and 60 other mayors that addressing climate change is a moral imperative for humanity.

That was a moving experience for city leaders. When the network of C40 cities gathered for a summit in Johannesburg early last year, I felt like we were banging at the door, trying to be heard. I’m sure many of my colleagues felt the same. This time, the Vatican deliberately focused on us, on mayors, to mobilize grassroots action.

The next week, after the protest in Portland against Shell drilling in the Arctic, I had a phone call with a young Portland “kayaktivist.” She articulately expressed the fear for her generation’s future if our generation doesn’t act on climate change. The reality is, while climate change could be even more catastrophic, it’s not too late to do something about it. If we’re aggressive about carbon reduction, we can, city by city, make a difference.

Dedicated activists like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, have driven the climate movement, rallying people in our cities around climate-focused campaigns. C40 Cities has organized mayors around this common purpose. So how does that look in practice?

I view government’s role, my role, as ensuring climate action isn’t just about being green, but also about being equitable. Improving access to the tools our cities use to fight climate change will have a twofold benefit: reducing carbon emissions and building more equitable cities.

Shortly after my trip to the Vatican, I was invited by the White House to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan announcement. Like the pope, President Obama was clear that climate action is a moral issue: “If you care about low-income, minority communities,” he said, “start protecting the air they breathe.” Both leaders made —> Read More